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tearing the rag off the bush again
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Ron Padgett, How To Be Perfect, new poems, Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, www.coffeehousepress.org. You can’t be a more perfect poet than Ron Padgett. Here is his answer to an interview question: Q: How did you decide on the title How to Be Perfect? A: As you know, there’s a poem of the same name in the book. I’ve always liked titles that begin with “How to.” They promise so much. Years ago I wrote two small books that subvert that promissory tone: How to Be a Woodpecker and How to Be Modern Art. The title poem of this book came from someone who was wistfully drunk and who said to me, “Tell me how to be perfect.” The ludicrousness of such a project intrigued me, just as the ludicrousness of this title pleased me. And it has a certain ring to it.

Eddie Kerouac-Parker, My Life with Jack Kerouac, edited by Timothy Moran and Bill Morgan, San Francisco: City Lights Books, www.citylights.com. Edie Parker was eighteen years-old when she met Jack Kerouac at Columbia in 1940. This is a wonderful memoir of a girl in love. When she wrote it, Edie Frankie Parker was no longer a girl, and her love, Jack Kerouac, was long gone. But Edie, or Frankie as her intimates called her, remembered everything about her brief marriage to Jack, as if a bubble of resilient sunshine had encapsulated those few years during World War 2, and kept intact every detail. She remembers what they ate, what they wore, what movies they saw. Her Jack Kerouac was young, handsome, a lover of fun, and a would-be writer. He stayed so in her memory and though she alludes occasionally to the alcoholic monster that emerged in later years, that creature doesn’t live here. In these pages we meet the young genius of just before “On the Road,” adored by all and loved by her most of all. The flavor of the war years with all their privations and mad hopes wafts from these pages freshly, like an Atlantic breeze, and makes one wonder, finally, what might have happened if Jack had settled down with Frankie, instead of following the turbulent destiny that changed America.

Simon Pettet, Hearth, New Jersey: Talisman Publishers, 2008, PO Box 3157, Jersey City, New Jersey 07303. Intense, lyrical, funny, dark, the poet Simon Pettet, whose work we’ve admired for many years, transcends all those adjectives, it transforms them into verbs: intensify, lirify, goofilate, darken. Simon’s lyrics are active, that is to say that they exalt the spirit of love and the feminine, while actively courting it. This is what troubadours did and in trouble they got for it! Simon’s poetry feels both luminous and imminently in trouble. For instance: “First of May, everything/ conjugates the verb ‘to love’ (amo)/ Here are the roses/ I am not in the middle of speaking/ of anything else.” In public performance, Simon Pettet reads his short lyrics twice, and it is easy to see from the foregoing example why this is necessity, not affectation. The Maypole twirling maiden whose attention absorbs the poet (we mean the traditional English Maypole not the stripper pole that comes to the American mind) demands that attention in full. She gets it, with the melancholy emphasis that he’s not “speaking/ of anything else.” In other words, the evildoers are pounding at the gates, but fuck’em, we are pledging to our maiden, we are her maypole, can’t be bothered now. This purposefully directed whole-poet-attention to love, or even possible love, constitutes Simon Pettet’s whole poetic enterprise. You can say that he’s a Love Poet, and mean that without a shade of doubt. Homer was a War Poet. Simon is a Love Poet. Even when alone in his solitude like a Chinese poetmonk he wears his lady’s colors. The lucky targets of his lyrics must suffer the inevitable ambiguity: the poem that praises them is also a surfing lure. Poetry was used this way for centuries until the moderns made it impossible to memorize and recite anything without footnotes. Pettet’s work takes the lyric back to Her ear and silences the footnote: it’s there but it isn’t pronounced, like the final “e” in French words. Here is another moment: “more difficult than Japanese arithmetic/ more expensive than the most expensive pullover/ in Bloomingdals or Saks  this love   is./”

J.J. Phillips, Nigga in the Woodpile, Serendipity Books, 2008. The mysterious J.J. Phillips is one of my literary heroes, and one of Exquisite Corpse’s consecrated writers. We have used our best critical acumen for the small task of decribing briefly what she does, but as for coming close, brighter minds are working at being born. Suffice it to say, that every one of her works is a finely machined word-machine, precise both visually and functionally. This text, subtitled, “a rant,” is that. One of the stanzas reads: “Mitochondria./Yo mama./Native bearer/of the genetic load.” Besides being a JJ Phillips’-certified inquiry into negritude, this “rant” required a layout, as in “a laying of hands,” and here we must praise the publisher, Peter Howard, and Alastair Johnston at Poltroon Press for making an elegant book-objet that is of a piece with the “rant.” The holes in the “o”s in the word “Woodpile” on the black cover are there to follow the reader, and they do. You open the book, you read “Mean cut-you-with-a-razor gene,” you close the book, there are those eyes. The “rant" is followed by an interesting history of the poem’s publication, including an egregious mis-setting that the author argues, rightly, was a web-publishing crime, and reveals, in addition, something of the mystery of how J.J. Phillips composes, but not enough of it to keep you from wondering. I wonder. There are many surprises in the book, including the facsimile of a letter in jive by “Crow Jane,” one of JJ’s “characters” (?).

Catherine Pierce
, Famous Last Words, Lebanon, NH: Saturnalia Press. www.saturnaliabooks.com This publisher issues handsome poetry books. This collection was selected by John Yau for one of the many poetry prizes (Saturnalia Book Prize in this case) that dot the American litscape frightening and tempting verse-makers. Who knew there was money in poetry? About glory we knew, but it appears lately that heirs to great fortunes die leaving huge money for poetry prizes. The Ruth-Lilly drug empire heiress grew giddy with happiness at having a poem accepted by Poetry Magazine after years of rejection, so she left Poetry sufficient cash to cure drug addiction in the U.S. At this rate of benevolence, Exquisite Corpse, is overdue for several fortunes from our rejectees. Should we become the sudden recipients of largesse, we would immediately pay between $10 to $50 dollars for every poem either not written or not submitted to Exquisite Corpse. If we had enough money to restrain poets the way the government restrains agriculturists, we would breathe a hell of a lot easier (and be able to see a lot farther). We do like C. Pierce’s poesy, forgive the rant. She says: “Remember Moab, Utah.” We do.

Dumitru Radu Popa, Din partea cealaltã, Craiova: Scrisul Românesc. These are esays by a Romanian exile in New York speaking to/from two worlds with charm and rapier wit.

Nicolae Prelipceanu, un teatru de altã natura, (with enclosed CD of poet reading his work). Bucharest: Cartea Romaneasca. www.cartearomaneasca.ro. One of Transylvania’s finest: “am fost azvirlit in zona urletelor fara sfirsit” (I was jettisoned in the endless howl zone). We, too.

Diane di Prima, Revolutionary Letters, Fifth expanded edition, 2007. Last Gasp Press, 777 Florida Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. Talk about timing! When the first edition of the Revolutionary Letters appeared in 1971, the U.S. was making its first world-wide bid for a merger between a collapsing economy and the Apocalypse. The war in Southeast Asia was spreading, half the young men in America were dying in the jungle, while the other half was ready to abandon the "american way of life" for good. And on top of all that, the old people who sent their kids to war or banished them from the house, couldn't sell enough vacuum cleaners to justify their existence or generate enough taxes for the war. Those of us who navigated the cosmos without a map, looked with exceedingly critical eyes at all the proffered maps, and there were plenty of them. The Revolutionary Letters couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time: in poem-form they were a guide for how to live, steeped in the anger and emotion we all felt. "not western civilisation, but civilization itself/ is the disease which is eating us" (no. 32) followed by ''turn off the power, turn on/ stars at night, put metal/ back in the earth, or at least not take it out/ anymore" (no. 34) and "take vitamin B along with amphetamines, try/ powdered guarana root.../it is an up/ used by Peruvian mountainfolk." All that must seem so new to the freshly panicked, was spelled out with passion in these poem-manifesto-wisdom works: the energy crisis, the need to renew the polis on love for human beings, the murderous greed of capital, the urgency of returning to sacred roots, and a whole new outlook on nature. The revised and new letters in this edition, continue filling in the radical philosophy the poet developed over a lifetime, a philosophy that was a guidebook in 1971 and it's a still better one in 2008. There is an increasing feeling for the cosmos, the result of magical and buddhist practice, but there is never a slackening of practical detail, or a loosening of the poet's grip on the gritty and very real world we are in. The Revolutionary Letters is one of the masterworks of late 20th century poetry that proves its mettle every time the world goes to hell, which it is doing now (again).
 
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